In the continuing series of weekend-opening list posts, this week I tackle the thorny issue of lazy musicians. Well, not lazy per se, just uncreative – with some examples proving my case even further than others.
Self-titled albums; usually the masterstroke of a band keen to add some brand equity to their breakout debut albums. Sometimes the last resort of bands who are really struggling for some inspiration and so are forced to fall back on something familiar-sounding – maybe just to make it easier to ask for in shops.
Whether it’s an act of genius or an act of madness, today I’ll be writing about five of my favourite eponymous albums.
Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Back again with the Rage boys; and theirs is by far the best example on this list of a band’s sound summed up within its name – and so the most acceptable use of a self-titled debut album. Because when your album contains such impassioned musicianship and lyrical messages, anything else than your equally incendiary name (and album cover to boot) seems pretty redundant.
I’ll mention later on a band that possesses a conviction; a need to be heard, but there are no bands out there that demand your attention, and are so vital as this one. Especially in the songs where the political rhetoric and awesome riffing go neatly together – ‘Wake Up’ would be my favourite example of this. Their debut album is, for me, the band’s boldest political statement – albeit not my favourite collection of songs.
A typical Tuesday night round about the turn of the millennium involved going out for a bit of the old underage drinking; we’d get our pre-drinks at my friend Ben’s house, where before booting up the PS2 for some Grand Theft Auto 3, he would play this album…specifically track nine. On repeat.
Whether it was his heavy-handed way of mocking someone during various girl dramas, or just because he really liked the song, I can’t be sure. However, what did annoy me was the fact he took ages getting around to playing the rest of the album, because it’s just bloody brilliant. The debut album from Rancid is very…let’s say, spiky. Not just because of the haircuts that the band sported, but because of the brilliant realisation of their spiky attitude through Donnell Cameron’s spiky production, and the youthful but desperate songs they play. They needed this.
Weezer’s (first) self-titled album is one of those where just scanning your way down the tracklisting would make you go “holy crap, there’s ‘Jonas’ and ‘No One Else’ and…” but while with most albums you’d be skipping a couple, on Blue you’d just end up reading back every single song because they’re ALL gold. I assume that it’s the mark of producer Ric ‘Cars’ Ocasek that sheer pop shines through on every track; the fuzzy guitars are there, as are the thumping drums, but all through the album there’s the catchy, catchy melodies, the amazing vocal harmonies and glossy production.
The fact that this isn’t even the best song on Blue tells you exactly how good Blue really is.
Weezer would go on to take the piss slightly with (to date) two more self-titled albums, but while both are distinctly lacking compared to their first, there is a band that can just about get away with releasing a second eponymous album in 2000.
And that’s because it’s equally as vital as their first, seven years later. Over 22 tracks but under forty minutes, Rancid found that the best way to come back from an ambitious dose of ska on Life Won’t Wait was to take it back to basics; self-titled, fast and furious – the latter no more evident than on ‘Rattlesnake’, a snarling ditty reportedly squarely aimed at a former manager of the band. “You’re a rattlesnake / and you’re full of shit”. Indeed.
My personal favourite track on this song was written by the bass-vocals god that is Matt Freeman; it still baffles me to this day how live footage of the band can exist on YouTube using any other angle than staring at his bass-playing, slackjawed with wonder.
A love song to life on the road and the girl he’s giving up on for it. Beautiful stuff, tenderly sung by the gruffest man in punk rock. Don’t worry; this is by far the mellowest moment on an otherwise very intense album.
LCD Soundsystem (2005)
It starts off with that annoying brag about Daft Punk (see my witty reply here) and ends with a hauntingly beautiful piece of music called ‘Great Release’ – more than six minutes of atmospheric synth built atop two piano chords and a distant vocal from music’s biggest fan, James Murphy.
And that’s why I love this first album; LCD Soundsystem were the world’s best tribute act to music. Combining influences as far-reaching as The Beatles (‘Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up’) and Brian Eno (‘Great Release’), Murphy’s group wore their influences on their sleeve – no, above their heads on giant placards – and managed to blend them through this post-everything tight group of talented musicians to put new spins on all kinds of generic works.
You can tell Murphy’s something of an experimental type outside of LCD – his latest project apparently involves turning data from a tennis tournament into music – and this album is their most eclectic statement of all three.